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Stephen A. Marglin’s recent work has focused on the foundational assumptions of economics and how these assumptions make community invisible to economists. This work, reflected in his latest book, The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community (Harvard University Press, 2008), attempts to counter the aid and comfort these assumptions give to those who would construct a world in the image of economics, a world ultimately without community.

The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like An Economist Undermines Community

The Dismal Science


Harvard University Press
ISBN 978-0-674-02654-4

376 pages

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Economists celebrate the market as a device for regulating human interaction without acknowledging that their enthusiasm depends on a set of half-truths: that individuals are autonomous, self-interested, and rational calculators with unlimited wants and that the only community that matters is the nation-state. However, as Stephen Marglin argues, market relationships erode community. In the past, for example, when a farm family experienced a setback - say the barn burned down - neighbors pitched in. Now a farmer whose barn burns down turns, not to his neighbors, but to his insurance company. Insurance may be a more efficient way to organize resources than a community barn raising, but the deep social and human ties that are constitutive of community are weakened by the shift from reciprocity to market relations.

Marglin dissects the ways in which the foundational assumptions of economics justify a world in which individuals are isolated from one another and social connections are impoverished as people define themselves in terms of how much they can afford to consume. Over the last four centuries, this economic ideology has become the dominant ideology in much of the world. Marglin presents an account of how this happened and an argument for righting the imbalance in our lives that this ideology has fostered.



Earlier publications

Perdiendo el Contacto
Cai Pacha and PRATEC, Cochabamba and Lima, 2000

Decolonizing Knowledge: From Development to Dialogue
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996, edited with F Apffel-Marglin

The Golden Age of Capitalism: Reinterpreting the Postwar Experience
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990, edited with J Schor

Dominating Knowledge: Development, Culture, and Resistance
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990, edited with F Apffel-Marglin

Growth, Distribution, and Prices
Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London, 1984

Value and Price in the Labor-Surplus Economy
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1976

Guidelines for Project Evaluation, with Partha Dasgupta and Amartya Sen
United Nations Industrial Development Organization, New York, 1972

Public Investment Criteria: Benefit-Cost Analysis for Planned Economic Growth
George Allen and Unwin and MIT Press, London and Cambridge, 1967

Approaches to Dynamic Investment Planning
North Holland, Amsterdam, 1963

Design of Water Resource Systems, with Arthur Maass and others
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1962


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